While many indicators of child well-being have improved since 1990, progress in ensuring that all children can thrive remains uneven, an annual report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.
The thirtieth edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book found that despite improvements in eleven of the sixteen indicators the study uses to measure child well-being in four areas — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community — racial/ethnic disparities remained. In 2017, for instance, the teen birth rate was at an all-time low, down 68 percent from thirty years ago; the percentage of children without health insurance was down 62 percent; and the percentages of three- and four-year-olds attending preschool and the high school graduation rate were both up.
Indeed, between 2010 and 2017 all four indicators in the area of economic well-being, all four indicators in education, three health indicators, and four family and community indicators improved or remained the same, while only one health indicator, the percentage of low-birth-weight babies, worsened, from 8.1 percent to 8.3 percent. At the same time, the child poverty rate remained unchanged from 1990, at 18 percent (representing 13.4 million children living in poverty), even though children were more likely in 2017 to have at least one parent who had full-time year-round employment.
The study suggests, however, that the nation has failed to dismantle barriers affecting children of color, even as the child population — which grew from 64.2 million in 1990 to 73.7 million in 2017 — has grown increasingly diverse. In 2017, for example, Latinx and Asian-American/Pacific Islander children accounted for 25 percent and 6 percent of all children in the United States, up from 12 percent and 3 percent, respectively, in 1990, while the share of African-American and Native American children in the population held steady at 15 percent and 1 percent. But African-American, Latinx, and Native American children tended to fare worse than their white or Asian-American/Pacific Islander peers across most of the indicators, although African Americans were more likely than the national average to attend preschool and to live in families in which the head of the household has at least a high school diploma, Native American families were less likely to be burdened with high housing costs, and Latinx kids were more likely to be born at a healthy birth weight and had a lower child and teen death rate.
The report's authors call on policy makers to take additional steps to help all children thrive, including expanding access to Medicaid regardless of immigration status, boosting federal and state earned income tax credits, and prioritizing investments in education, from preschool through high school and beyond.
"America's children are one-quarter of our population and 100 percent of our future," said Casey Foundation president and CEO Lisa Hamilton. "All of the seventy-four million kids in our increasingly diverse country have unlimited potential, and we have the data, knowledge, and evidence to create the policies that will help them realize it. It's incumbent on us to do just that."